Can Christians today eat food that was forbidden in the Old Testament?

Q. I read in Isaiah how angry God was at his people for eating unclean flesh that he had not meant to be food. My question is, in today’s world as a Christian, is it sinful to eat unclean flesh ? I’ve been a Christian 35 or 40 years, most everyone at church eats whatever they want, standing alone is difficult. I don’t want God angry at me! I understand the mercy and grace of the Lord Jesus, but in Romans it asks, “Should we sin that grace may abound?”

Thank you for your question. I hope this earlier post will help answer it:

Did Jesus not declare all foods clean?

I’m struggling to forgive

Q. I’ve been reading about forgiveness. My brother was set up to be murdered. I just can’t forgive one person who had a part in this who was close to him and should have helped and protected him. I know that forgiveness is not for the other person, it’s really more for myself in letting go of what this person has done. But how do you get past something like this? I struggle with this a lot and I don’t like the way I feel.

My sincere condolences to you on the loss of your brother. Many readers of this blog have also asked about forgiveness and I hope that the following reflections that I’ve shared with them will also be helpful to you. May the God of all comfort grant you peace.

How do I know whether I’ve really managed to forgive someone?

Can we truly love our enemies?

Couldn’t ‘turning the other cheek’ get someone seriously hurt?

Where did the Book of Mormon come from?

Q. Is the Book of Mormon supposed to be the first book made? I thought the Bible was the only book. Where did the book of Mormon in the Bible come from?

The Book of Mormon is actually not one of the books of the Bible. The biblical books of the Old Testament come from several to many centuries before Jesus, while the New Testament books were written within the first century after Jesus. The existence of these books in these time periods is attested by ancient translations, quotations, and copies. (There is some debate among scholars about the exacting dating of specific books, but I think this is a fair summary of the general consensus.)

The Book of Mormon, for its part, first appeared in the year 1830. It was published by Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church. He said that the book was a translation of writings that were engraved on buried golden plates that an angel told him where to find. These writings, he said, came from prophets who lived on the American continent up to four thousand years ago. But Smith never produced the plates, no other copies of them are known, and no evidence of these prophets, their lives, or their words is found anywhere else. It’s a matter of faith for Mormons that Smith’s account is true, but others have questioned it because of this lack of evidence.

What we can say is that the Book of Mormon is the oldest of the books that Mormons consider sacred. But it comes from a much later time period than the books of the Bible, which Christians consider to be inspired and authoritative.


Why did Pilate have Jesus flogged, and could he really have survived such suffering?

Q. When Pilate ordered Jesus to be flogged, was there no agreement between him and the High Priest that Jesus would be freed after the flogging? Why was Jesus flogged? According to Luke, when Pilate said he would flog Jesus and then set him free, the crowd shouted all the more, “Crucify him,” so “Pilate decided to grant their demand.” Here, the crowd did not demand Jesus to be flogged, they demanded that Pilate crucify Him. So what is the connection between flogging and crucifying Jesus? Pilate did not have to flog Jesus when he gave in to their demand.

Also, one Bible scholar has suggested that the degree of suffering Jesus underwent is actually much more than what is portrayed in the movie, The Passion of the Christ. Would a human body in that condition even be able to walk, never mind carrying a cross, due to loss of blood?

First, you’re right that there was no need for Pilate to have Jesus flogged after he had given in to the crowd’s demand that Jesus be crucified rather than flogged. Crucifixion itself was such supremely agonizing physical torture that there was no reason to add flogging to it, as if that would make it worse. In fact, a prisoner who had been flogged first would likely die sooner on a cross and thus suffer less of the agony of crucifixion.

So why did Pilate do that? Historians tell us that he was a puzzling combination of stubbornness and pliability. He could be influenced by others (as by the crowd in this case), but at the same time he could insist on having his own way in various particulars. For example, when the chief priests wanted Pilate to change the sign above Jesus’ cross to read “This man said, ‘I am the king of the Jews,'” Pilate responded stubbornly, “What I have written, I have written,” that is, “I’m not going to change the current sign that reads, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.'”

So it may be the case that Pilate, having offered flogging instead of crucifixion, but then having given in to the crowd’s demand for crucifixion, nevertheless stubbornly insisted on “doing it his way” by flogging Jesus first. (While Luke himself does not say specifically that Pilate had Jesus flogged, the other three gospel writers note this detail. For example, Mark writes, “So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.”)

This indeed appears to be the action of a weak, petulant ruler who couldn’t control the big picture and so insisted on his own prerogatives in small matters. But in the providence of God, it fulfilled Jesus’ prediction about the Son of Man, “After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.” And in the mercy of God, it may also have shortened Jesus’ time of suffering by weakening his body so that it could not endure the crucifixion any longer. Not that the work of Jesus on the cross was in any way incomplete—”It is finished!” he cried, and we know that he fulfilled his task as the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world.

As for your second question, when the movie The Passion of the Christ came out in 2004, I saw doctors quoted to the effect that no human being could have lived through the amount of torture that Jesus was depicted suffering in the film. So even if the amount wasn’t much greater, as you heard suggested, no one would have been walking around or carrying a cross afterwards.

But it’s important to realize what the genre of that movie was. It was made in a time-honored tradition of meditations on the sufferings of Christ. Another example of this genre, in painting rather than film, is the so-called “Man of Sorrows” portrayal of Jesus, in which the viewer sees Jesus after the crucifixion standing or sitting with all of his wounds visible. This is a non-historical moment that never actually occurred, but it’s designed as a vehicle for devotion. Hymns such as “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and “Man of Sorrows, What a Name” are written in this same tradition. Keeping an antique nail in a prominent location, or growing a crown of thorns plant, are other approaches to being mindful of Jesus’ sufferings for us.

It’s consistent with this devotional practice for a film to portray Jesus’ sufferings individually and extensively so that we can recognize all that he did for us, even if this style of portrayal becomes non-historical by exhibiting the sufferings in such an extended way that they represent more than anyone could have survived. Our response can only be, as in the hymn “Man of Sorrows, What a Name”: Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Hans Memling, “Man of Sorrows,” c. 1490


What is the “sin that leads to death”?

Q. John writes in his first letter, “If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that.

Would you please explain what John means by “a sin that does not lead to death” and “a sin that leads to death,” and why we’re not supposed to pray about the second kind?

This statement by John is indeed puzzling, because it’s hard to imagine why an apostle of Jesus, writing inspired Scripture, would tell us not to pray for a brother or sister who’s being overcome by sin. Many different explanations have been offered, but let me suggest one that’s based on the circumstances John is writing about and the characteristic language he uses in this first letter.

His letter is addressed to the same community that he earlier wrote the Gospel of John for. That community is now in crisis because some of its members are spreading a false teaching. Influenced by the Greek idea that spiritual things are good but that physical things are bad, they’re arguing that Jesus could not have been the Son of God if he came to earth in a human body. In fact, they’re claiming that they have received a spiritual revelation that Jesus was not the Messiah. They’re leaving the community of his followers, and they’re encouraging others to leave with them. On top of this, they’re creating a scandal by living openly sinful lives, in the belief that what they do in their bodies doesn’t matter—they think that only what happens in a person’s spirit is important. They’ve also stopped caring for the poor and needy, because after all, those people are only suffering in their bodies.

In response to all this, John first offers eyewitness testimony that Jesus was a real human being and the source of salvation for all who trust in him. He begins his letter by saying, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.

John also discredits the supposed spiritual revelation. “Dear friends,” he tells those in the community who have remained faithful to the original teaching about Jesus, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.

In other parts of his letter, John also addresses the way the false teachers are living, and it’s in those parts that some characteristic language emerges. In response to the way they’re living as if what they did in their bodies doesn’t matter, he writes, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.” John critiques the false teachers’ lack of concern for those in need by explaining, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. . . . This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?

In light of this overview of the letter, we can see that by “life,” John means membership in and fellowship with the community of Jesus’ followers, and by “death” he means being outside that community. By “sin” he can mean continuing to live in a way that dishonors God in one’s body, in the belief that bodily things simply don’t matter.

So I would conclude that the puzzling statement means something like this: Part of our ongoing concern for our brothers and sisters in Christ, in addition to caring for their physical needs, is to pray for them, and particularly to pray that they will have victory in their struggles against sin. However, if a person is sinning willfully and continually because they think God doesn’t care what they do in their body, there’s no point praying that they’ll be set free from that sin. There’s a deeper problem behind the behavior: a wrong belief about Jesus that is leading the person out of the community of his followers. That would be the “sin that leads to death.” While John doesn’t say this specifically in his letter, I think we could and should pray that such a person would have their eyes opened to the truth about Jesus, so that eventually their problem with sin could be addressed as well. On the other hand, the struggle of a sincere believer would be a “sin that does not lead to death.” We can and should help our brothers and sisters in that kind of struggle right away through our prayers.

Why did God say that He was pleased with Jesus at his baptism?

Q. Why was God pleased with Jesus at his baptism? What had Jesus done at that point? Jesus had only been baptized, he had not started his ministry, but the heavens opened and God said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

I don’t think we should completely rule out the possibility that God the Father was saying that He was pleased with who Jesus had become to that point in his earthly life. Luke tells us that in Jesus’ youth and young adulthood, he grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people.” So the Father could have been expressing His pleasure in Jesus’ godly character and spiritual maturity; Jesus had prepared well for the ministry he was just about to begin.

However, it’s important to realize that the language of being “pleased with” someone is actually the language of choice or selection in the Greek of the New Testament and the Septuagint (a  Greek translation of the Old Testament that was widely used in the time of Jesus and the apostles). For example, there’s actually an extra psalm in the Septuagint. It’s considered Psalm 151 and it’s attributed to David, although its authorship is actually uncertain. But in it, the character of David describes how he became king. He says that the Lord’s messenger (that is, Samuel) “took me from my father’s sheep and anointed me with his anointing oil.” He adds, “My brothers were handsome and tall, but the Lord was not pleased with them.” This doesn’t mean that that the Lord didn’t like them. Rather, David is saying, “The Lord didn’t choose them instead of me.”

And so we should understand that when the Father says  He is “well pleased” with Jesus at his baptism, He means in the same way, “This is the one I have chosen to be my Messiah.” As Gottlob Schrenk writes in The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, “What is meant is God’s decree of election, namely, the election of the Son, which includes his mission and His appointment to the kingly office of Messiah.”

We find confirmation of this understanding later in the gospel of Matthew when the Father’s declaration at Jesus’ baptism is echoed in a quotation from the book of Isaiah:

Here is my servant, whom I have chosen,
    the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
    and he will proclaim justice to the nations.

Here the idea of being delighted in (i.e. having someone pleased with you) is used in exact parallel with the idea of being “chosen.” We also see again that the use of this phrase is accompanied by the gift of the Spirit for mission, just as in the case of Jesus’ baptism.

So while the Father was no doubt pleased by the way Jesus had matured into godly character in preparation for his ministry, the phrase “with him I am well pleased” actually indicates how God has chosen Jesus to be the Messiah.

“The Baptism of Jesus” by Brojoe Joseph, a Christian artist in India. Paul Neeley comments about this image: “The place in the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized by his cousin became, for a short time, a very holy place , a very sacred space. So it seems fitting that a Christian artist of India would include the visual element of the mandala to visually ‘establish a sacred place.’ It’s almost as if the sky itself brightened with more intense beauty, and this baptismal foretaste of ‘being born again into newness of life’ is seen, at the scene, by those who have eyes to see the spiritual landscape. Further, the mandalas behind Jesus and the Holy Spirit dove are reminiscent of halos, albeit halos that are enormous and brightly colored. I think that these halos also have a role in visually ‘establishing a sacred place.'”

Why does the book of Kings give so much more attention to Solomon’s palace than to the temple?

Q. Is it strange that in the book of Kings, Solomon took seven years to build God’s temple (in essence, Yahweh’s house, a place where heaven and earth met) but spent thirteen years building his own house? Logically I would expect him to spend more time building God’s temple, but the book offers more description, detail, and attention to his house compared to the temple. Is this strange, or we are learning of how God actually truly blessed him abundantly, or this is bringing our attention more to the human condition?

Actually, the book of Kings devotes far more attention to the temple than to Solomon’s palace. But I can understand how you got a different impression. The book first describes how Solomon took seven years to build the temple. Then, relatively quite briefly, it relates how Solomon built his own palace, taking thirteen years to complete it. (He may have been working on both projects at the same time; in other words, the thirteen years for the palace didn’t necessarily begin only after the seven years for the temple were over.)

The book of Kings then returns to the temple, describing its furnishings at great length, in a passage that parallels the description of the earlier construction of the tabernacle in the wilderness. (You may have gotten the impression that these were the furnishings of Solomon’s palace instead, because the book introduces the palace but then returns to describe the temple.)

In one representative English translation, the description of the temple’s construction and furnishings takes over 1,800 words, while Solomon’s palace is described in less than 300 words. Just a bit later in the book, as Solomon’s reign is being summarized, there’s a further description of his throne and some of the furnishings of his palace, but that takes less than 200 more words.

The temple gets even more attention if we count the description of how it  was dedicated when the ark of the covenant was brought into it. That involves nearly another 2,000 words. So the focus is really very much on the temple as a dwelling place for God and as a center for worship that will draw in people from all nations. And I think that reflects the priorities of the biblical authors.

An artist’s interpretation of Solomon’s temple. (Image courtesy Wikipedia.)